In the lofty palace chamber, the trickling fountains and sweetly scented air push the harsh land aside, if only for a short time. Outside, you know the city of Ekabba bustles below you and beyond that, the beating heat of the Ishmai desert glazes the air with mirages. The contrast could hardly be greater and you sense that it may be as well to make the most of such moments.
Fans waft cooling breezes over your faces and peeled grapes are poised before waiting lips as you sit, honoured guests of the Emir as he outlines his problem. The distraction of the handmaidens is slightly offset by his Eminence's words.
"Our visionaries all say the same things. Something arises to the west beyond Hallampor. What the danger may be, we do not know, but it must surely involve giants. The figures in the dreams can be nothing else.
My resources are ... stetched. Ekabba has always been a peaceful trading haven, happy to negotiate with all travellers. We have but a small standing army - enough for our own defence. And yet, peaceful as we are, we have been attacked. Settlements long in accord with us have risen and rage against our walls. They seem maddened, plagued. The cause is unknown as yet. You see my fear? Should the plague reach us, we must fight within and without. I cannot spare the men to seek that which may be a greater threat. None, in any case, have your talents.
What say you? My treasury is open to you should you succeed."
Greeg looked around the room in some appreciation. Some good stuff in here, he thought to himslef, Meeren would like some of the silk hangings. He only partially listened to the Emirs speach, looking the serving women over with some admiration, but realising that their small stature wasn't as appealing as a goliath woman (especially if she was wearing the same garb)
When Cronin spoke, he snapped his attention back to the meeting and sat up a little more in his cushions. His big body disturbed a dish of scented water nearby, used to wash the hands after eating apparently. The water sloshed slightly, staining one of the satin pillows. Sighing at this reminder he was no longer in a place built for his size, he nodded his head at Cronins words.
"Yeah, we can deal with the big boys. Not sure about plagues though, something to look into I gess."
A scantily-clad temptress discreetly moves the more breakable glassware away from Greeg, smiling apologetically as she does so.
"A misthoughtfulness on my part. You will need a larger drinking vessel," she murmurs.
The Emir nods. "I do not doubt you can deal with giants. We know little of them. They trade at times, but the sand giants prefer their own company. For which we are grateful. I have wondered if the appearance of these visions of giants may not be linked to the arrival of this murderous plague - but how can I spare men to search on an instinct?"
He opens his hands in a despairing gesture.
"My people would think me mad and perhaps they would be right. If you will go, I will aid you in all ways that I can. Maps, eqiupment, unguents - ask what you will and if it is in my power I will provide it. One thing only I ask. Return or send a report within a month. I can hold Ekabba so long, but after that it is falls to the gods unless I know more."
I actually had not given it any thought, good point, if i could get away with it i would be using him as a leaning post, since i am picturing them sitting on the ground around a large table (kind of like indian jones and the temple of doom), if not most large palaces have a garden/court yard he could roam in
"Dear me. Giants spreading a plague about, or giants who have a plague spreading out, I wonder. I suppose it could all be a coincidence, but until someone has been to take a look I don't think we'll know. And people showing signs of madness, that doesn't sound very good either." Guldarin looks slightly quizzically at the human women. "An adaptation to the climate, no doubt. What sort of things would we need for desert travel, anyway? I'm really not that familiar with that sort of things."
The handmaidens cluster enthusiastically around Dirt. Attendance on their guests is immaculate, but clearly a large bear is unusual enough to draw attention. Well-trained as they are, their eyes drift often to the great beast.
Realising that this may appear rude, one of them moves to Guldarin. "Your beard is magnificent. It reminds me of the elder in my home village of Hallampour. The growth is so luxuriant. He uses donkey milk as a conditioner."
The Emir waits, content for now to let the group discuss amongst themselves.
"Madrissa is a native of Hallampour, as she says. She knows this land and can guide you. We have garb suitable for travel."
Madrissa herself nods. "Most certainly, Eminence. I can guide and protect them."
To the newly formed group, she adds, "Our Emir is economical in his choice of servants. I and my sisters are also his bodyguard. We are not purely decorative."
"Truly so," smiles her master. "Any of my maidens can defend herself. I do not offer you attractive baggage."
The tawny bandit stands in the back, his arms crossed, his skin darkened by years in the sun, though it doesn't harsh his everpresent crooked grin. With a thoughtful look, he muses aloud for the first time, his voice about as rough as he looks. "Great...plague in the desert. Bad enough as it is out here." He gestures to the palace, "Guess even the rich have to worry about plague...when it gets in your water supply?" He laughs sharply, "Funny thing about giants, trick to fighting them is knowing their blindspots. Problem is, its usually under their feet!" The highwayman lets out a raucous laugh, "Desert life is tricky enough, dwarf...water and blankets are only part of it. Worst part is what hardass critters LIVE in it. But uh..." He casually pulls out a small knife If Dram has a bear, I can only assume I have my weapons too. Then after a nimble flick of the wrists, starts cleaning his nails, "But seriously, if someone here isn't up for dealing with plague, then we'd better start making arrangements for caskets, and uh..." He motions vaguely to Dram, "And bear caskets..."
Kevaras revels in the luxuries of this palatial oasis, deciding that it's a wonderful and fitting end such an arduous journey.
How long ago had they sailed forth across the sea of dunes? Weeks? Months? He feels that mirages have a similar effect on time as they do on distance. Or it could just be the fine wine talking.
From what seems like a lifetime ago, these cards were presented to him by the enigmatic, warforged Vistani harrower back home. He sits, silently contemplating the Harrow cards in his hands.
The first card—the Snakebite, a dire portent of the maddening plague that has afflicted the nearby settlements. The other card—the Eclipse, predicts that although the prophetic abilities of the Emir's visionaries have may have been shrouded by some malign force, the passing of the eclipse will augur an unheralded power that the party should seek out.
"And bear caskets..."
"I'm not sure he'll need one," the drow offers his religious expertise, "if Dirt is anything like his mate, Dust, the plague will only make him more powerful than you could possibly imagine."
a Gnome stands on the shoulders of an identical gnome, Zeric.
"Giants are easy for us!" Says the top gnome, "Easy for you to say, you've got the luxurious spot up there!" replies the lower "Oh bah, quiet you!" He squints really hard and the top one vanishes into thin air.
"Sorry about him, dream forms are always too optimistic.. Not to say that we can't deal with them though.." Zeric clears his throat awkwardly.
The Emir looks around the strangely assorted group and seems satisfied.
"Madrissa, you will make ready to take them to Hallampour at dawn. Take whatever you need and return within the week. You will be needed."
Rising, he waits for the obeisance of his servants and departs, leaving Madrissa alone with the party.
She looks at you all. "I will arrange clothing for you, and rations. You have done me a great favour. I will see my home again, if only for a short time. So, I will see that you cross the desert alive."
Now that you look at her properly, you can believe Madrissa is a bodyguard as well as a handmaiden. The dainty fabrics that make up her clothes do not quite hide her muscles. Kohl-lined eyes watch carefully, responding instinctively to every movement in the room.
"You will do well to heed me. The mirages in the desert can make you mad," she adds loudly. "Some say you can see cities beckoning to them, and walking spirits that guide them. I say these are illusions only. Following them will lead you to your death."
Lowering her voice she goes on, "But I also say, that when I was a child, my friends and I saw a tower far away and that I do not think was illusion or mirage."
Guldarin strokes his beard happily. "Donkey milk, you say. I've never used that, dwarves tending as we do to treat beer as the solution to all problems involving liquid. I wonder if I might prevail on a donkey to let me try it." He nods wisely as he understands the nature of the ladies. Decorative and useful. How efficient. "We will, or at least I will, certainly follow your advice, as I'm sure you know much better than we do how to behave, and I've personal experience of the consequences of not paying attention to local guides, none of it fatal but often quite unpleasant unless you actually like finding thorns in your chest hair, well you haven't got chest hair but I'm sure you know what I mean, for the next month. And I didn't like the alligators either." Guldarin shakes his head ruefully.
Greeg stood to bid farewell to the Emir as he left, a feat that was not made easy by the close trays of foods and various loosly placed pillows. He was careful not to move too suddenly in this room. For once it was less about trying not break something as it was about the company around him. Some of these folk were obviously well trained and deadly. It didn't do to move too fast around folk like that. He found they started trying to poke things into him or twist his limbs in odd ways in attempts to subdue him.
He also gave the great bear the respect a creature of its size was due. This was a strange assortment of folk that Cronin had tangled him up with this time, but strange was something he liked if it meant he got to see the world and maybe have a fight or two in the meantime.
At Madrissa's words he just nodded. He hadn't been through many arid regions, but he knew enough of how the wilds worked to understand the need to follow a good guide. This one was quite pleasent to look at as well. She was no Meeren, but it wasn't going to be unpleasent watching her walk ahead of him being all guide like.
He grinned and went into a bow for her, sweeping his arm out in what he thought was courtly manners, but instead caught it in a silken drape and nearly took the head off the little gnome standing nearby.
<sigh>"I'll just go stand over here a little until we're ready to get sorted then eh?"
He hadn't missed her quiet addendum to her "visions in the dunes" speech, but it was obvious she wanted to keep that a quiet conversation. Greeg wasn't much good at quiet.
"I'll just take that drink now missus" he asked as politely as he knew to the girl who had spoken to him earlier. Then he stood and watched.
"Few creatures. It is the sun you should fear. The desert has consumed many souls and they walk at night," she adds pragmatically. "We must set careful watches. Hallampour is two days away."
"As for the sand giants - they tell many stories. They are great boasters. We see few of them. They claim to be a warrior race and this saves us from their wrath. We're not worthy prey."
The paladin says to the Emir, "You honour us, your eminence, by risking one of your inner circle to ensure our success."
He bows towards the Emir and then at Madrissa, "It will be a pleasure to accompany you back to your home town. Somehow I don't believe this tower you speak of is illusory either," he admits, he interested suddenly piqued by such a phenomenon.
Don's memories of old bazaar tales are a little hazy, but he remembers old stories of the sand giants being outcasts from the elemental planes, ousted by efreets. Some say that their fury has never died and they seek to regain their old glory.
Kevaras's pretty manners go down well with the Emir and Madrissa alike, although the girl waits until she is alone with the party before saying anything more about the tower.
"I would hate to mislead, but I am sure there is a tower. I've never been there, but I have seen it - really seen it. I will show you."
She looks thoughtfully at Greeg. "I will do my best to find suitable clothing," she says a little doubtfully. "If it will not offend, possibly a small tent may serve."
She also supplies filled waterskins and plant juice which she advises the party to smear over exposed skin.
"This will keep the water in your body. Try not to speak in the desert, it is wasteful."
This is a two day journey. For each day, you will need to make two group Endurance checks. For group checks, you all roll and if five or more of you succeed, there are no ill effects. If enough of you succeed, there may also be benefits.
In a nutshell, I will need 4 Endurance checks from each of you. If you wish to help each other, you may do so using Heal, Nature and Perception. Only one aid per character.
4 Endurance, and a Heal to aid the worst-Endurance PC (other than myself). Uncharacteristically for me as a player, Cronin doesn't have it trained.
1d20 + 8 ⇒ (7) + 8 = 151d20 + 8 ⇒ (2) + 8 = 101d20 + 8 ⇒ (15) + 8 = 231d20 + 8 ⇒ (4) + 8 = 121d20 + 18 ⇒ (19) + 18 = 37
Ouch. Sorry, folks. But I helped the dickens out of somebody!
"Ah, now, I might be able to help a little here, if people aren't averse to a little magical assistance, which doesn't mean summoning an angel to fan us with her wings, just a little magical ritual that makes extremes of temperature more comfortable, if everyone is willing?"
Endure Elements, it would have to be cast twice to cover nine people and one bear, but it would protect against non-magical temperatures at least. That should be good for a bonus at least to everyone's Endurance checks. Total cost, 80gp.
1d20 + 14 ⇒ (12) + 14 = 26
1d20 + 14 ⇒ (4) + 14 = 18
1d20 + 14 ⇒ (13) + 14 = 27
1d20 + 14 ⇒ (11) + 14 = 25
And a Heal check to aid someone who is in trouble:
1d20 + 19 ⇒ (16) + 19 = 35
Guldarin's efforts certainly do help. Madrissa is wide-eyed as the dwarf putters about smearing bits of sand on his companions.
"Truly you are an elder of merit."
You still need to make the checks, as you will be tired crossing difficult terrain and not that great at hiding, but nobody gets sunstroke. +5 bonus to all Endurance rolls, which makes Cronin slightly better off and ensures Guldarin has no failures.
1d20 + 11 ⇒ (7) + 11 = 18
1d20 + 11 ⇒ (8) + 11 = 19
1d20 + 11 ⇒ (14) + 11 = 25
1d20 + 11 ⇒ (20) + 11 = 31
Aid another Perception
1d20 + 10 ⇒ (9) + 10 = 19
Don chuckles as he feels the effect of the heat lessen, "Could've used a guy like you back in the day. This is all right." He gives it some more thought, "Hmm, you know, whatsyername...that concubine acted as if that was new to her, might be worth somethin to ya to go back and spread that bit around, know what I mean?"
Greeg thanks the girl and grins at the thought of wearing a small tent around. "Whatever works me girl, I'm not overly fussy about appearences"
Of course, once he actually dons the canvas, he wished he'd mentioned that garishly bright stripes of white and red wasn't exactly what he had in mind.
As he travelled across the desert wastes, he took note of the little things about the environment that years of travel had taught him to look for. Maybe he could help keep them alive in this place.
1d20 + 7 ⇒ (19) + 7 = 26
1d20 + 7 ⇒ (13) + 7 = 20
1d20 + 7 ⇒ (19) + 7 = 26
1d20 + 7 ⇒ (14) + 7 = 21
Knowledge nature ( a few rolls if needed for each day)
1d20 + 16 ⇒ (8) + 16 = 24
1d20 + 16 ⇒ (6) + 16 = 22
Sorry for being so quiet lately, my young fellas been sick and that's slowing me downa bit
1d20 + 6 ⇒ (5) + 6 = 11
1d20 + 6 ⇒ (6) + 6 = 12
1d20 + 6 ⇒ (10) + 6 = 16
1d20 + 6 ⇒ (8) + 6 = 14
As a slightly paranoid fellow, Zeric keeps his eyes on his surroundings. He often walks alongside his dreamform, having the odd conversation. The two walk apart from time to time as well. It can be quite taxing to keep track of the real gnome.
Aid Another Perception
1d20 + 14 ⇒ (6) + 14 = 20
The party make their way through the desert following Madrissa's expert guidance. Cronin and Guldarin use their healing skills to fend off minor insect bites and sand burn while Dram and Greeg rapidly adapt to their surroundings, pointing out treacherous drifts to the less able.
Right. Let's take a look and see what we have here. I'll confirm what is or isn't happening once Kevaras and Nayce posts their rolls.
Cronin - 2 fails and 1 aid success
Guldarin - 2 successes and 1 aid success
Don - 2 fails and no aid success
Greeg - 2 successes, 1 aid success (you forgot to add in Guldarin's +5 - btw, no worries on posting rate, I know you're around)
Dram - 2 successes and 1 aid success
Zeric - 2 fails and no aid success (even with Guldarin's +5)
So far you have 6 fails, 6 successes and 4 of those fails can be wiped out with the aids.
Cronin - 1 success, 1 fail
Guldarin - 2 successes
Don - 2 successes
Greeg - 2 successes, one aid fail
Dram - 2 successes (if you include Guldarin's +5)
Zeric - 2 fails
Cronin, Guldarin, Don, Dram and Zeric can all try aid rolls.
Day 2 totals are running at 9 successes/3 fails so far. Looking good.
Don glances over at Kevaras as they stroll beneath the desert sun. "That armor's got to be all sorts of uncomfortable....I mean, besides the fact that it's 120 degrees out here, it's also pretty heavy, right?" Grinning to himself, enjoying his fun, he adds after a few minutes, "I mean, with all that extra gear, you're just bound to get sand in all sorts of places......Knew a guy once...wore armor out here, weather just like this, got sand in his erm...what's the term for it? Loinarmor, or whatever...anyway. Long story short, he needed ointment for a week before he could sit down..." He chuckles to himself, then lets himself slip back in line a little.
Greeg walks up beside his old travelling companion and thumps him amiably on the back "Nice view eh Cronin?" he states, nodding in the general direction of their guide.
"Gotta say, this desert stuff isn't so bad. I saw a Blue Banded hawk earlier today, we don't get them up in the mountains you know. Was nice watching it glide up in the thermals, but I think I'd feel all sorts of lost up there in the air. Nothing like good solid stone to walk on. Not sure I'm likeing sand though. Moves too much like water to be real ground"
As he rambles on, filling the empty sound of the desert with his own voice, he notices his friends slight discomfort at the trek. Looking around, he sees some of the others suffering as well and frowns a little. If this trek goes on too long, they wouldn't be able to deal with anything except sunstroke and blistered skin.
"Chin up Cronin, we'll be there soon mate, and you seeem to be doing a might better than the elfy in his plate armour. Keep with it eh!"
Adding Nacye and Kevaras into the mix we get the following:
You have 7 fails, 9 successes and 5 of those fails can be wiped out with the aids. Overall success.
Day 2 totals are running at 10 successes/6 fails. 3 fails can be wiped out with aids. Overall success.
Working together surprisingly well, the party manage to make their way to Hallampour without incident. At one point on the second day, Madrissa calls a halt and gestures into the distance where a sandstorm seems to be brewing.
"Sand giants. They say that their great ones can become one with the sand."
Congratulations :) Note that Guldarin will have cast Endure Elements 4 times and thus spent 160gp from your ritual kitty.
Despite your success at traversing the desert, you are glad to see Hallampour on the horizon. Madrissa has not spoken idly about the mirages. Nayce and Zeric, badly affected by the glare have been particularly afflicted, having to trust to their companions to remind them that the oases and graceful towers rising in front of them are illusory.
Hallampour is less attractive. Everything about it speak functionality, but Madrissa and the party receive a warm welcome. An elderly man, his lustrous beard rivalling Guldarin's greets you all enthusiastically.
"You have given us Madrissa for a short time and we are grateful. She is greatly honoured in the Emir's service, but we miss her here."
"I am Rukoth, Elder of Hallampour. You are welcome here."
He bows to each of you, pausing slightly when he comes to Kevaras, but masking his surprise. Most likely he has never seen a drow before. The goliaths do not seem to startle him, and while Zeric also attracts some curious glances, he is too polite to comment openly. When his gaze passes over Dram and Dirt, he looks slightly concerned, looking questioningly at Madrissa.
"The noble one speaks with spirits and this is his companion of old," she explains.
He looks shrewdly at you all. "What brings you to Hallampour? Something great must be happening in the world for so many strangers to arrive."